Downward Dog Hot Tips

 

Downward dog is a pose we do over and over again, but how many of us are really doing it? Like anything that we do often, it receives less and less of our attention and we begin to take it for granted. 

Lets talk about some common misalignments in downward dog, how to remedy them, variations of downward dog and some things to consider advancing toward.

 

 

 

Options for transitioning into Downward Dog: 

1. Wide Legged Childs Pose

This is a personal favourite of mine. It not only measures a fairly accurately length of a students downward dog, but also provides some time for breath work and teaching actions in the arms and shoulders without having to worry about the lower half of the body. 

Have the students place their knees wide, big toes touching and arms forward alongside the ears. Leave plenty of mat space for the arms and finger tips to extend to avoid students having to readjust when they come into down dog, which will defeat the intention of prepping in this posture. 

After a few breaths with limp arms, a soft belly and heavy hips; begin to crawl the finger tips forward as long as possible, emphasizing the length down the left and right side of the body between the fingertips and the waist. Steeple the fingers creating tents with the hands, activating the arms, the forearms will lift away from the mat. Maintain this engagement and begin to roll the shoulders out away from the ears and slide the shoulder blades down the back, lengthening your neck. 

Reground the palms, spread the fingers and place a extra pressure into the inner hands (the thumb and index knuckles).  Begin to activate your torso, no longer allowing the body to hang passively toward the mat. Hug the front ribs into your body toward the back ribs, hugging your navel in and up. Take a deep breath in, curl the toes under, and as you exhale pike the hips up into downward dog. Ideally the placement of the hands and feet are where they should be for downward dog but students may need to make a few minor adjustments. Student will have a second opportunity to measure their downward dog when exploring transitions between plank and downward dog. 

2. Table Top / Cat - Cow

Another great prep pose for Downward Dog, with lots of space to squeeze in alignment points and creative stretching. If teaching Cat Cow, return students to a neutral spine. Wrist creases parallel with the top edge of the mat, spread the fingers, adding extra pressure to the inner hands. Loop the shoulders up back and down. Instruct a straight line from tailbone, to hips and shoulders and the crown of the head. Avoid dropping the head or looking direction forward so the back of the neck stays long. Root down through the hand to push up between the shoulder blades as you continue to reach the chest forward. Instruct hugging the belly button toward the low back and slightly up toward the chest. Draw the front, floating ribs inward, feelings the back body begin to inflate and fill. At first, and for some time, it will really feel like we are over arching our backs as our bodies are not as familiar with these actions. Commonly, students will over arch their low back, spreading the sitting bones and pointing the tailbone upward. Wrap the tailbone in the direction of the heels. 

These cues are a little more accessible in table top and will repeat through the practice and prep them to receive the downward dog cues more accurately. From here, students can walk their hands one 'hand' step forward of the shoulders, curl the toes under and press up into downward dog. 

Downward Dog: 

Every pose has a foundation, where your body connects to the floor. This connection is where we draw our strength from, where we build our stability and explore gravity. That being said, identifying and solidifying the foundation of each pose is essential to the practice. In downward dog, our connection to the earth are the hands and feet. We begin here and make our way up. 

Hands:

Have students place their hands the width of their outer shoulders. This a simple adjustment you could offer your students if you noticed their hands placed incorrectly. As mentioned previously, wrist creases are parallel to the top edge of the mat. For some students it helps to instruct having either the index or middle finger pointing to the top of the mat, this gives students a little wiggle room to decide what feels best for their bodies. Spread the fingers, although the thumb does not spread to it's full potential. Root the finger pads and knuckles firmly into the mat. This seems simple enough when it is only the hands we are concerned with but as the practice deepens, we quickly forget these cues. It is very helpful to repeat these cues through the practice. When the weight is not distributed correctly, all of the weight dumps into the wrists, leaving practitioners vulnerable to wrist injuries. If teaching Vinyasa, note that it is even more difficult to maintain this grounding in plank and upward dog and is a great correction to teach. When the foundation of the pose is present and strong, the rest of the pose will radiate in response. 

Feet: 

The width of the feet is debated, and varies depending on the school of practice. The same goes for the positioning of the heels in relation to the floor. That being said the most important thing is safe alignment. More commonly the heels are seen lifted from the floor though the students is actually pressing energetically down through the heels. In traditions where the heels are taught rooted, the student will either have to work toward that flexibility or shorten their dog. Either way, you shouldn't be able to see your ankles when you look between your legs as your heels should be in line with your second and third toes. For the majority of students, the hamstrings are too tight to even straighten the legs with the heels lifted. Lets talk about that. With tight hamstrings, it's great to offer a downward dog with the legs wider than the outer hips. Maybe this is just at the beginning of class for a warm up, but some students will benefit from keeping this variation for awhile. Bicycling the legs out in the warm up is also effective for lengthening the hamstrings. Keeping the knees bent throughout the practice and for some time is a great variation in response to tight hamstrings and solves other misalignments which we will get into shortly. 

Arms & Shoulders: 

Often students rely on their joints to create and maintain a posture. Not only can this lead to contraindications, but often strips the students of their practice potential.There is a tendency to translate the hands rooting and length of the arms into over extending the top of the arm bone out of the shoulder sockets. Have your students plug their arm bones back into their shoulder sockets. Externally rotate your shoulders away from your ears and firm the muscles of your arms as though you are squeezing something between them. Draw your shoulder blades down your back, away from your ears, lengthening your neck. Wrap your elbows in toward each other as you energetically try to point your thumbs forward without actually moving the hands.Keep an eye out for student with hyperextended elbows and have them unlock the joint.  If you are a beginner, some of these alignment cues require a significant amount of body awareness. Do what you can, explore your body and just keep practicing. Extract the simpler cues pertaining to more gross (large) movements, positioning and injury prevention and go from there. 

Legs:

Some students have 'lazy legs'. They need to be reminded to activate their legs and how. Engage the thighs to lift the knee caps. Spin your inner thighs back, spreading the sitting bones and reach the tailbone long. A cue like 'spin your inner thighs back' can be very ambiguous and a good metaphor can really help. I think metaphors are a great place to express your own unique touch and personality. Notice the student who needs to drop their heels and fire up their legs, if they avoid these actions they are likely putting too much weight into their wrists and shoulders. 

Torso & Spine: 

Often times, downward dog is referred to as a upside down V. You will see many bodies however that are unable to make that shape without some intelligent adjustments that is. When you see a very rounded spine, it's an indicator that the hip flexors, hamstrings or shoulders are tight. It could also signal a spinal condition but the hope is  the student would have already shared this with you. When you see the opposite, a dramatically arched low back, it often indicates the student is hyper flexible. This is common in dancers, gymnists, and long term yogis that are not engaging their core or practicing Uddiyana Bandha. ( I will discuss this subject another time. ) If the former is true, here is another instance where bending the knees can help. Doing so creates more mobility in the pelvis, adjusting the position of the spine. For the latter, resist the urge to passively let the chest hang between the arms. Rather, draw the low ribs into the body and the hip bones toward the navel. Keep your arms parallel to the upper arms and your collar bones wide. 

Explore these cues in your own body and in your instruction. As instructors it is so tempting to say a million cues because you just want to share everything you know but this will make for a very overwhelming experience for your students. Choose your cues intelligently. Strategize your cues by teaching similar poses with overlapping actions and cues so that you can continuously build on top of what have already shared. 

This marks the first of my posts on asanas and alignment. Stay tuned for more to come !

 

 

My vulnerable moments... now tell me yours.

Sometimes when we think of tough practices we think of class levels, challenging poses, and Power Flow. Sometimes, however, the toughest practices are not so easy to foresee. 

You step onto your mat so unsuspecting. You cant quite seem to get 'here', 'now'. You think, "It's ok, you'll get there". But you don't.

"Why isn't my practice like yesterday's?"

"Why can't I breath?" 

"How long have I been talking to myself for?"

"Where am I?"

 

These are tough practices. They are the ones that make you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. You feel like you are dragging ass. Every single alignment cue that is given feels treacherous and you can't even bare to think about how many poses you have left to do or it might result in a quick exit. Your mental chatter is so obnoxiously loud that your ear drums hurt and you forget to breath. You are disconnected from yourself and it's exhausting. A tug of war starts between body and mind. You think to push yourself or give up and neither feel right. As the practice goes on, you start to hear yourself. I mean, really hear yourself. Your body says, "I'm tired today", and you realize that your mind has been like this all day and only now are you stopping to listen and check in. What is relevant? What isn't? What is prevalent and is there a pattern? Can you find space for quiet? You're in deep but you are here on your mat and going to work through it no matter how unpleasant it is. 

These practices are humbling. They are milestones. Sometimes we confuse these practices for plateaus when they are deeply therapeutic and psychological. They cannot be quantified and evaluated in physical poses and visible shapes, nor should they be, so we become lost and the practice undervalued. It's like our Ego just went to the Mandarin, it's disgustingly full of all the wrong things and hates itself for it. 

I wanted to share this because I think we can feel very alone in these practices, thinking everyone around us is having the best practice of their eff'in life. In this place we may be vulnerable but we are not alone and we are exactly where we need to be. This is WHY we practice, this is how we find Self, how we grow and become strong. This practices causes us reconsider our entire practice, to acknowledge how it serves us and manifests within us both on and off the mat. 

Have you ever considered keeping a practice journal? Somewhere to write, record or possibly even share your reflections after your practice? It is a great tool for deepening your practice, for taking it off of your mat and into your own hands.

For those interested, I would love to receive any writings that you would like to share. I can keep them between us as a confidential dialogue alternatively they can be shared publicly or anonymously. I would really love to open up the table for some connecting outside of the classroom. 

I would love to hear your story. I want to learn from you all and only by request would it be shared publicly. E-mail me at info@purushayoga.ca.

xox 

 

How to Exercise on Vacation

I finally got to visit California and it was an incredible adventure. It was no walk in the park though. Six of us piled into a Mini Van and tried to pack in as many adventures as possible. I slept at multiple Ranches, Tents, Motels, Friends houses and spent hours on end in the car, which is mandatory in L.A.

I am so lucky that my job allows me to practice consistently, go to kick ass classes, train with friends and stay in great shape. This same gift is also a curse. When it's time to go away I begin to panic about the loss of my routine. I decided to set off with a plan.

You might have heard of the Squat Challenge that has recently gone viral. If you haven't, here it is. I took this concept with me. Start with a set number of squats depending on your level of activity before leaving and add five each day. I also decided to spice it up by adding these side kicks using the same method of counting. Don't forget to do both sides.

You might be shocked to hear that I didn't pack a yoga mat. I haven't yet acquired a travel mat but plan to. However, a mat is a luxury and you can do yoga anywhere and that's exactly what I do. In the car, on grass, in my motel room and on the beach. 

I packed my super light and awesome Skechers runners I got from Jock Yoga Training, a skipping rope and a resistance band. Skipping is great cardio that you can sneak in while on the go and something I have been wanting to get better at. One day I would like to be able to skip without walking away with whip marks on my arms. Lastly, download a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) App, I use this one. It will allow you to craft you own workout beforehand. All you have to do is hit 'Play'. I fit in an awesome poolside workout with this method.

Here is an example of a circuit you could enter in your HIIT application. 

Circuit : 

  • Skipping 1 Minute
  • Tricep Kick Backs with Resistance Band 40 seconds
  • Break 20 Seconds
  • Bicep Curl with Resistance Band 40 seconds
  • Break 20 Seconds
  • Hold Dolphin Plank 40-60 Seconds
  • Break 20 Seconds
  • Jumping Jacks 1 minute
  • Squats 40 Seconds
  • Break 20 seconds
  • Side Kicks Right Side 40 seconds
  • Break 20 Seconds
  • Side Kicks Left Side 40 Seconds
  • Break 20 seconds
  • Mountain Climbers 1 Minute
  • Break 20 seconds
  • Tricep Dips 40 Seconds
  • Break 20 Seconds
  • Wide Set Push Ups (Knees up or down) 40 Seconds
  • Break 20 Seconds
  • Alternating Lunge 40 Seconds
  • Break 20 Seconds 
  • Wide Sumo Squat 40 Seconds
  • Burpees 1 Minute
  • Alternating Bicycle Core 40 seconds
  • Break 20 seconds
  • Leg Lifts / Pulses 40 Seconds
  • Eagle Crunches 
    • Think Eagle Arms and Legs but Reclined on your back. Your knees are over your hips, your shins parallel to the ground. Both your tailbone and your shoulder blades peel up, working upper and lower abdominal muscles as you contract and round your spine, rooting down through your lower back firmly. It is important to note that hands behind the head is a better variation if any discomfort is felt in your neck. 
    • Tip: Don't lower your shoulder blades back down. Lift and contract as high as you can and only lower an inch or two from there. There is no sense in losing your core engagement in each rep, you're only wasting time and energy. Also, avoid turtle neck, you are working your core muscles not your neck. 
  • Repeat this 3 times. You could do it once and feel great too. Or you could get really excited like I did and do it 4 times but be mindful of what activities you have planned the next day. You will hurt, there is no doubt about that. 

Just to be clear, I am human. I didn't manage my Squat challenge everyday nor did I do this circuit consistently but I managed it when I easily could have said 'screw it'. I also managed to stretch whenever the opportunity presented itself. Sitting in a car is awful. One workout is better than none, two better than one and so on and so forth so just get up and move. 

 

Video: Prepping for the Splits

 

 

Hey Everyone! I had a milestone yesterday. I did full splits. All my life I allowed myself to believe I would never do the splits and so I didn't really try. Recently I decided to change my mentality and begin prepping for the splits. As soon as I made that decision everything changed and then yesterday I managed to find my first full split. If you're interested in doing the same or you just generally want to get into some juicy leg stretches to strengthen your practice or recover from intense workouts, give this video a try! Check out my You Tube video here.